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New Report Reveals the Leading Sports for Risk of Spinal Cord Injuries

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According to the Spinal Injuries Association, the number of people who experience spinal cord injury paralysis is around 2,500 a year. While the causes of many of these accidents vary, a proportion of them will be the result of participation in sports, whether for leisure or professionally.

With 2024 set to be a major year for sporting events, specialist personal injury and medical negligence practitioners, Fletchers Solicitors, have today revealed their spinal injuries and sport report, which uncovers the sports that pose the greatest risk of suffering a spinal cord injury.

Following an in-depth statistical analysis across a series of global whitepapers, Fletchers reveals eight sports where we are most at risk of suffering a spinal cord injury:

  • Rugby
  • Football
  • Cycling
  • Horseback riding
  • Swimming and diving
  • Gymnastics
  • Snowsports
  • Motorsports

Delving into statistics per sport type, the nation’s sporting favourites, football and rugby, can pose serious risks for spinal cord injuries. 23.4% of sports-related spinal injuries are through rugby, according to data across nine countries. In the UK, for every 1,000 hours played of rugby in the Premier League, there are an average of 10.9 spinal injuries, and this is often as a result of the extreme contact required during a rugby match.

Within the football industry, 3% of the total injuries experienced by youth football players are spinal injuries, with tackles and collisions causing a potential injury impact to the spine. For national academy players, data has shown a greater risk of developing spinal injuries in September and January, after summer and winter breaks.

Across the country, 13.1% of the population cycles at least once a month, with cycling being a highly popular fitness activity that also poses spinal injury dangers. 8% of all sports-related spinal cord injuries are attributed to cycling, with the statistic rising to 30% in Scotland. Cyclists are at high risk of high-speed falls when road or mountain racing and from collisions with cars, buses, and other objects.

Horse riding is another sport that features highly on the Fletchers list, with around 11.4% of sports-related spinal injuries across nine countries attributed to horse riding, and this figure rises to 41.8% within Ireland. The leading risk factor for horse riders is falling from significant heights, particularly when jumping, racing, or even casual riding.

The Fletchers report analysis also found gymnastics, swimming, and diving to support spinal cord injury dangers. With each of these sports causing full-body muscle strain, gymnastics causes 5% of sport-related spinal injuries, and diving is the fifth leading overall cause of spinal injuries in the US. Children under 15 are in particular danger, with around 25% of child recreational spine injuries caused in swimming pools.

Lastly, for thrill-seeking snow sports and motorsports enthusiasts, spinal cord injuries are endemic. Snow sports, more specifically skiing, cause 11.3% of sports-related spinal injuries across nine countries, with this figure climbing to 48.3% in Norway. The average for motorsports is 5%, with the threat of high-velocity impacts and unpredictable terrain, in similarity to snow sports, also creating major risks.

Within the industry, spinal cord injuries may occur as the result of poor coaching, inadequately maintained facilities, a lack of safety gear, or non-adherence to the health and safety standards the law expects.

Charlotte Mackulin, partner and serious injury solicitor, has commented on the relationship between serious injuries and organised sports: “Experiencing a serious injury, such as a spinal cord injury, as a direct result of participating in sport is thankfully quite rare in this country. Our laws mean that businesses have a duty of care towards those who are playing sports, whether that be a cycling velodrome, a gymnastics hall, or a football pitch. If facilities are not kept to a suitable standard, that could pose a risk of injury and represent a breach of legal duty.

“Sporting equipment, if provided by the business in question, should also be properly maintained and tested for safety. When taking horse-riding lessons, for example; the stirrups, saddles, and reigns are as much for the rider’s safety as his or her ability to control the horse. If equipment is found to be defective, this can contribute to the likelihood of injury.

“Regrettably, while rare, a number of popular sports have contributed to spinal cord injuries over the years. Cycling, gymnastics, and snowsports, for example, can pose some danger, particularly when precautions are not followed or when health and safety procedures are not correctly adhered to.

Discussing her experiences working with seriously injured people and their attitude towards sports post-accident, Charlotte Mackulin also shared that Fletchers’ spinal cord injured clients can often develop new passions post-injury:

“Experiencing a serious spinal cord injury is devastating, and depending on the type of injury, the person affected can experience greatly reduced mobility and independence throughout their lifetime. That said, our spinal cord-injured clients have often shown themselves to have incredible resilience and strength of character. It is not uncommon for clients to find a way back to enjoying the activities they once loved, albeit with modifications, or even to develop entirely new passions post-injury.

“As an example, a young man we supported following a spinal cord injury in unrelated circumstances was determined to return to the world of sports. He developed a love of wheelchair basketball following his initial recovery period. During a time that can be incredibly isolating, this client found camaraderie and joy through the relationships he developed with his teammates. Which is truly inspiring.

“It is important to note that playing sports offers a great deal of physical and mental well-being. But it is important that grounds are well tended, facilities are properly maintained, and safety provisions are correctly in place at all times in order to minimise the risk of injury. Participants should ensure awareness at all times of their own safety and should always report a risk to those responsible for the facilities in question.”

With over 30 years’ experience, Fletchers serious injuries solicitors are passionate about identifying the negligence or lack of care that leads to injury, with particular experience working with clients who have suffered sports injuries.

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